Aztec Butte

Round Trip Distance: 7/10 mile (first hill only)
Round Trip Distance: 2 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 6043 - 6298 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 1 hr.
Trailhead: Aztec Butte
Fee: $30/vehicle
Attractions: SIndian ruins, historical site, wildflowers

Aztec Butte is located in the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park west of Moab, Utah. Canyonlands National Park is about 120 miles from Grand Junction, Colorado and 32 miles from Moab, Utah. It's not the hiking that makes Aztec Butte a 5 star hike but the experience moving about where the ancestral Puebloans once lived and toiled hunting game and harvesting grain from the surrounding area.

The Aztec Butte trail leads to granaries that are on two separate hills. Most visitors hike the smaller hill which has two very nice granaries. Aztec Butte is the larger hill that sets a little further from the trailhead and it has quite a few more granaries and other ruins. Aztec Butte is a little harder to ascend than the smaller hill but it is well worth the effort if you are interested in seeing more ruins.

From the parking area the trail travels around the base of the first hill to an area between it and Aztec Butte. The trail is comprised mostly of loose sand through this area.

There is a fork in the trail after hiking a little more than a quarter mile. It is obvious that the left fork leads to the smaller hill and the right fork leads on over to Aztec Butte. If all you hike is the smaller hill and then back to the trailhead the total distance will be about 7 tenths of a mile.

The trail up the first hill is a little steep and requires a minor scramble to get over the rim at the top.

The best route is to follow the trail to the right once you get to the top of the hill.

Within a short distance the trail drops over the rim to a minor shelf area and within a few feet you are at the two granaries in the picture. Pretty cool. The granary on the right still has some of the wood above the entry. If you missed reading the kiosk at the trailhead it warned against entering any of the structures or touching them.

The trail that leads up Aztec Butte is a little more challenging. It is longer, steeper and like the smaller hill you will probably need to use your hands to help pull yourself over the rim.

Once at the top take the trail to the left and follow it to the first good trail that goes over the rim. This spot looks a little like you are going to walk right off the cliff but once you get close enough you will see a bench that runs around the hill just like on the previous hill.

There are ruins of structures almost all the way around the top of Aztec Butte. If you have visited any other granaries you may have noticed that they all seem to be built in an area that can be defended. It is intriguing to imagine how the defenses were thought out and implemented at each site you visit.

Some of the ruins look more like temporary quarters than granaries. Perhaps they served as both.

Talk about a room with a view. This one is pretty awesome.

The trail is easy to follow around the back side of Aztec Butte.

There is a roofless structure on the southeast corner of the hill.

There are a few ruins along the south side of the hill but they are a lot harder to get to.

The most prominent grass on the Island in the Sky is rice grass.  Another common grass type is dropseed. A leather pouch made from antelope hide was found at the grand panel in Horseshoe Canyon in 2005. The pouch had traces of dropseed, among other items, inside. You can read about it at http://www.nps.gov/cany/historyculture/pouchreport.htm.

Aztec Butte is a good place to see some ancient ruins within a short distance of a paved road. That might be something that most visitors to the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands aren't expecting. I personally feel that it is one of the four must see sites in the Island in the Sky district along with Mesa Arch, Grand View Point and Upheaval Dome. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.